On July 24, 2020, the State of California released its “COVID-19 Employer Playbook for a Safe Reopening.” According to the playbook, its purpose is to help employers “plan and prepare for reopening their business[es] and to support a safe, clean environment for workers and customers.” The Employer Playbook’s table of contents lists four major areas that the playbook addresses: (1) steps employers can take to open safely; (2) what to do if a COVID-19 case occurs in the workplace; (3) enforcement and compliance; and (4) worker education. In addition, the playbook includes three appendixes consisting of employer and worker resources, enforcement and compliance contacts, and case studies illustrating the playbook’s principles.
The Employer Playbook directs each employer to conduct a “detailed risk assessment and create a work site-specific COVID-19 prevention plan.” Additionally, the playbook instructs employers to train employees on how to limit COVID-19’s spread; to “put disinfection protocols in place”; and to establish individual screening procedures, physical distancing guidelines, and universal face covering requirements.
“What to Do if There Is a Case of COVID-19 in the Workplace”
The Employer Playbook directs employers to take preparedness steps in the event a COVID-19 case occurs in the workplace. According to the playbook, an employer should identify a “workplace infection prevention coordinator” to manage COVID-19–related issues. The playbook’s guidance also directs the employer to instruct employees to stay home and report to the employer if they develop COVID-19 symptoms. Additionally, the playbook states that the employer should “identify contact information for the local health department in the jurisdiction where the workplace is located.”
The Employer Playbook instructs employers that are aware of an employee’s positive test positive for the coronavirus, to notify the local health department (LHD) and the LHD of the jurisdiction in which the employee lives. According to the playbook, the employer should consider sharing an employee roster with the worksite’s LHD.
The Employer Playbook also lists specific steps for communicating with employees, including notifying all employees who were potentially exposed and advising close contacts about testing sites, home quarantining, and symptom monitoring. The playbook, however, emphasizes that employers “must make every effort to maintain the confidentiality of workers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection when communicating with other workers.” Similarly, the playbook instructs employers to write correspondence in a way that does not disclose an employee’s health status to other employees. “Employers cannot confirm the health status of workers or communicate about the worker’s health,” the playbook states. (Emphasis in the Employer Playbook.)
The playbook also recommends steps employers can take to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, as well as cleaning actions employers must complete after a worker with COVID-19 has been in the workplace. These steps include working closely with the LHD to develop a testing and interview strategy.
In returning employees to work, the playbook suggests that employers consult the most recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance and consult with their LHD. The playbook includes a comprehensive chart that lists the minimum criteria for returning to work for certain employee categories, including symptomatic- and asymptomatic-positive, symptomatic- and asymptomatic-negative, and asymptomatic untested employees.
The playbook states that employers must record COVID-19–related fatalities or illnesses just as they would any other occupational injury. Within eight hours of learning of employee fatalities or illnesses, employers must report to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) any serious illness, serious injury, or death that occurred at or in connection with work.
Finally, the Employer Playbook identifies various forms of leave and state benefits for which an employee may be eligible during the pandemic. These leaves and benefits include California Family Rights Act leave, paid sick leave, paid family leave, state disability insurance, unemployment benefits, and workers’ compensation.
Enforcement and Compliance
The Employer Playbook reminds employers that the State of California has established a COVID-19 Enforcement Task Force consisting of various agencies, including Cal/OSHA, the Labor Commissioner’s Office, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, and the Department of Consumer Affairs. The COVID-19 Enforcement Task Force will monitor and enforce violations of state statutes and orders.
The playbook identifies three areas in which employers should train employees about COVID-19: understanding COVID-19, including how it spreads and its symptoms; how employees can protect themselves (and others) at work; and employee protection at home. The playbook makes clear that employees with symptoms should not be in the workplace.
In sum, California’s COVID-19 Employer Playbook for a Safe Reopening is a very detailed manual of steps and actions that employers can take to keep their workplaces safe during the pandemic. Employers may want to be aware that if they are involved in future COVID-19–related litigation with the state, employees, or other third parties, compliance with the playbook’s guidance could become an issue.